book: Pretty Baby (2015) by Mary Kubica


Chicago charity worker and her self-obsessed workaholic husband Chris have a 12-year-old, Zoe. They’d have had more children except Heidi was, for medical reasons, forced into an emergency hysterectomy, so that was that. There are tensions — many of them over Chris’s hot workmate, Cassidy, whom Heidi suspects of Having Designs — but they at least approximate a happy family.

Then one day, in the rain, Heidi spots a young homeless woman with her tiny baby, and becomes obsessed by the pair and the obvious desperation of their situation. Before too long she’s invited the girl, Willow, and the baby, Ruby, to live in the family home, to the horror of Zoe and Chris. Even though Continue reading


book: Carte Blanche (1990/2006) by Carlo Lucarelli


Welcome to the declining days of Italy’s fascist republic, with the invading allies having already occupied half the country. It’s not the easiest of times to be a cop, because the partisans want to kill you and the fascist bureaucracy will quite happily throw you to the wolves if they think it gives them the slightest prospect of saving their own skins.

It’s a particularly hard time to be a cop if you happen to have integrity — if you really want to catch criminals rather than solve cases in the way that’s most politically convenient, to hell with matters of innocence or guilt.

That’s the position Commissario De Luca finds himself in. No wonder he’s cursed by insomnia.

Vittorio Rehinard has been murdered — stabbed through the heart and then gelded. It soon emerges that Continue reading

Carrotblanca (1995)

“Attention! Ah say Attention! German scientist knocked unconscious by large frying pan! Important document stolen!”

US / 8 minutes / color / Warner Bros. Animation Dir: Douglas McCarthy Pr & Scr: Timothy Cahill, Julie McNally, Kathleen Helppie-Shipley Voice cast: Joe Alaskey, Bob Bergen, Greg Burson, Maurice La Marche, Tress MacNeille.

A riff (obviously) on CASABLANCA (1942), with the central characters of that movie played here by our favorite Warner Bros. animated characters: Bugs Bunny in the Humphrey Bogart role (Humphrey Bugsart?), Tweety Bird in the Peter Lorre role, Pepe le Pew in the Claude Rains role, Daffy Duck in the Dooley Wilson role, Penelope in the Ingrid Bergman role, Sylvester in the Paul Henreid role, etc. (There’s even, in the background, Porky Pig in the Sydney Greenstreet role.) What could possibly go wrong?

Tweety Bird as Peter Lorre. Continue reading

book: Dark Places (2009) by Gillian Flynn


A quarter of a century ago on a remote Kansas farm, a couple of days into 1985, Libby Day’s mother and two elder sisters were slaughtered in an In Cold Blood-style killing. Libby herself escaped into the winter’s night and, despite losing some digits to frostbite, survived to give the testimony that damned her elder brother Ben to life in prison for the murders.

In the decades since, there’s been for Libby no happy ending, no reconciliation with life: she lives a borderline-criminal existence on the fringes of society, reveling in her own meanness of spirit. And the fund that was collected all those years ago for the brutally orphaned Libby is now at last running out.

So, when a group of rather sick true-crime aficionados called the Kill Club approaches her with offers of actual cash to reinvestigate the old crime and that testimony of hers, she jumps at the chance. Initially it’s just the money that appeals — how long can she string them along? — but soon she begins to doubt her own assumptions and her memories of that fateful night and becomes invested in finding out what really happened.

Of course, that could be dangerous work . . . Continue reading

Kolchak: The Night Stalker — tying it all together

A train on the Chicago El clatters past the windows of the Independent News Service (INS). Within, investigative reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is having his millionth stand-up row with his boss, agency manager Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Their problem is that the two men have entirely different worldviews: Kolchak will follow a story to wherever it might lead him, even if he discovers that at its heart lie ghosties or ghoulies or, anyway, something that goes bump in the night. Vincenzo, more pragmatic, just wants some usable copy he can file to head office.

The pair are old adversaries. They met in Las Vegas in The Night Stalker (1972), where Kolchak managed to settle the hash of a vampiric serial killer. Next time their paths crossed was in Seattle, in The Night Strangler (1973), where this time it was a seeker after the elixir of life whose murderous exploits had to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Needless to say, in both instances Kolchak had the adventures and the girl while Vincenzo had the office job and the (apparent) security.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak.

As often happens between old adversaries, they’re in a sense the best of friends. But at the same time they really, really can’t stand each other:

Kolchak: “What don’t you like about this hat?”
Vincenzo: “What’s under it.”
(from #7 “The Devil’s Platform”)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker first aired on ABC in 1974–5, which was Continue reading

Guilty Hands (1931)

”He’s just like an animal!”

US / 69 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: W.S. Van Dyke Pr: Hunt Stromberg Scr: Bayard Veiller Cine: Merritt B. Gerstad Cast: Lionel Barrymore, Kay Francis, Madge Evans, William Bakewell, C. Aubrey Smith, Polly Moran, Alan Mowbray, Forrester Harvey, Charles Crockett, Henry Barrows, Sam McDaniel, Blue Washington, Landers Stevens.

In the train on his way to a consultation with his wealthy client Gordon Rich (Mowbray) on the latter’s island estate, hotshot lawyer Richard Grant (Barrymore)—formerly New York’s DA but now in private practice—is goaded by a couple of fellow-passengers into the admission that, under certain circumstances, he believes murder can be justified.

Alan Mowbray as sleazebag Gordon Rich.

On arrival, he discovers that his adored daughter Barbara “Babs” (Evans) and her Aunt Maggie (Moran) have already been there a week. Two other things he discovers are that the middle-aged Rich has called him there to arrange for the dispersal of hush monies to his various past overly youthful mistresses—albeit not the sixteen-year-old who Continue reading

reblog: New Article by John Grant, author of Corrupted Science

***Off-topic galore, but this essay wot I wrote for the Center for Biological Diversity’s zine The Revelator seems to have stirred up some interest . . .

Sharp and Pointed

John Grant, author of Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), has a nice piece on why the Republicans and especially the Bush and Trump administrations have been so eager to ignore and misrepresent science, and at the same time pursue environmental policies that couldn’t be more obviously harmful to the public and to future generations.

John’s essay, “Donald Trump, Corporate Profits and the Cult of Tomorrow Morning,” appears in The Revelator (“An initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity“).

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book: Dark Horse (2002) by Tami Hoag


A few years ago narcotics cop Elena Estes was drummed out of the force after a rash act of heroism on her part led to a colleague losing his life. Now she’s living off her very wealthy childhood friend Sean and vaguely assisting with the passel of horses he owns. (These horses are trained for equestrianism, not racing.)

One day a child, Molly Seabright, comes to Elena looking to hire her as a private detective. Molly’s elder sister Erin, a teenage groom at one of the local stables, has disappeared, and no one seems at all interested: their mother’s constantly stoned and anyway doesn’t want to irritate their stepfather, who’s a hard-hearted, self-absorbed swine. Meanwhile, the cops couldn’t care less because Erin’s legally an adult and anyway they’re lazy.

Despite misgivings, Elena takes Molly’s $10 retainer and the case . . . Continue reading

book: Kolchak: The Night Strangler (1974) by Jeff Rice, based on a screenplay by Richard Matheson


Someone is knocking off belly dancers and other fit young women in the city of Seattle, and draining a small quantity of blood from their brains. Investigative reporter Carl Kolchak, freshly arrived after having been run out of Las Vegas at the end of The Night Stalker, does what he does best: annoy just about everyone in sight, become rather quickly involved in a love affair with a woman far younger than he is, and discover the truth underlying the murders. It seems the alchemical elixir of life — or, at least, one formula for it — requires the blood of young women. Furthermore, the elixir lasts only so long — about twenty or twenty-one years, in fact. Deep beneath the streets of modern Seattle there lurks a century-old alchemist who, every couple of decades, must harvest blood from a half-dozen young women.

Can Kolchak persuade the authorities to entertain his seemingly madcap theory as to what’s going on before the would-be immortal kills again? Continue reading

o/t: NetGalley e-book giveaways

***See Sharp Press, the publisher of my new book, Corrupted Science (Revised & Expanded), has just signed up with NetGalley, and Corrupted Science is one of the five books they’ve so far placed with the service. So, if you’d like to get stuck into Corrupted Science even before publication date (next Friday), here’s your chance!

Sharp and Pointed

Corrupted Science front coverBloggers who review books and those readers who post book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc., should be aware of NetGalley. It’s a service that provides free e-books to those who actually review at least some of the free e-books they download. This differs greatly from the unrestricted book-giveaway sites. While anyone can create a NetGalley reader account, prior to okaying a book download publishers can check to see how many of the books a particular reviewer downloaded he or she reviewed. So, publishers are free to turn down “reviewers” who have downloaded say 20 or 30 books and haven’t reviewed any or almost any of them.

But if you like to read e-books and actually review at least some of them, it’s great. It couldn’t be easier to sign up for this free service at NetGalley’s web site.

We just signed up with them as a publisher…

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